New & Notable: No animals were harmed in the making of this offence

TT was a mother. TT decided to take on a raw vegan diet. She imposed this diet on her children. The consequences of that decision lead to serious health issues for her children; it also lead to criminal charges: 2012 ONSC 4346.

TT is the biological mother of 3 children, born between 2005 and 2009. In 2008 TT adopted a raw vegan diet for the family. This diet "mandated not consuming animal or animal by-products, including eggs, milk and cheese" [para 3]. As such TT "fed her children only raw vegetable, sprouted rice, fruit, nuts, coconut water, herbal tonics and supplements.

Their feeding was highly regimented and TT strictly controlled portion size. She did not seek medical advice on the appropriateness of the raw vegan diet for infants and small children.  Further, the children did not have a family doctor, nor did they have immunizations” [para 3].

In June 2010 TT and all four children were admitted to hospital due to severe malnutrition, osteopenia, and rickets. The children were only admitted to hospital after the Children's Aid Society intervened. TT had sought medical assistance in order to complete government dietary forms in support of her application for additional social assistance benefits.  TT was referred to a paediatrician but refused to attend [para 4]. Following their discharge from the hospital the children were placed with TT's mother.

TT was subsequently charged with four counts of failing to provide the necessities of life.  She pleaded guilty.

The Crown sought a sentence of 6 months incarceration followed by 3 years probation. Defence submitted that a suspended sentence and 3 years probation was appropriate; in the alternative the defence sought a conditional sentence.

Despite finding that TT had given different information, including whether she still adhered to the raw vegan diet, to various professionals who prepared reports for the sentencing hearing, the sentencing judge agreed that a conditional sentence was appropriate. The sentencing judge held that:

This is not a case where T.T. chose to engage in her own activities over her duty to care for her children. To gain knowledge about the diet she was feeding her children, she read books and did on-line research, and numerous books on vegetarianism, vegan and raw food diets were found in her home. She told the probation officer that she had not realized the severity of the detriment to her children. Fortunately, there is no evidence of any long-term health consequences to the children.

The principles of denunciation and deterrence warrant a period of imprisonment for these offences. I am of the view that the safety of the community would not be endangered by T.T. serving her sentence in the community and that a conditional sentence in this case would be consistent with the fundamental purpose and principles of sentencing [paras 33-34].